Dinesh Chepang lives with his family of 8 on the steep slopes of the Mahabharat Mountains in the village of Kaling in Chitwan district. Despite his own struggles, he especially focuses on empowering his female villagers to improve their quality of life and their livelihood.
Dinesh draws a clear picture of their past situation: “Before Caritas came to our village, we were extremely poor. It was like being in constant pain. We lived a sad life.” Because he couldn’t feed his family with his own seasonal crop, he had to buy additional groceries from the market that were expensive and low in nutrients. Only when Caritas initiated the project “Building a resilient Chepang community through integrated program” did their situation improve. “Caritas organized workshops and training courses on modern cultivation techniques and advanced animal management. Now I have enough knowledge to support my family and I can even make a profit by selling the remaining crop.” Dinesh now also breeds goats on a larger scale and sells each goat for 15,000 rupees, which is a total of 60,000 rupees a year. His kitchen garden* in front of his house also generates 5 to 6,000 rupees additional income. Apart from that, he practices mushroom cultivation “Mushroom cultivation is a very convenient way of making money. You don’t have to work a lot. You only have to prepare the sacks so that they can grow. Time does the rest!”
The Chepang followed a semi-nomadic lifestyle until a few generations ago. So far, the majority has relied on working in other people’s households and fields to make a living. Their municipal ties are also very weak because their homes are scattered over the hills, making a compact neighbourhood impossible. In these rather harsh living conditions, women in particular are facing major problems. Suffering from various diseases due to low nutrition and unsanitary hygiene measures combined with the exposure to many different types of violence, such as forced and premature marriage, social taboos and superstitions, lack of space for communication and expression and domestic violence, leave Chepang women as the most vulnerable people across Nepal.
Since Dinesh Chepang is very successful in agriculture and male, he sees his main task in helping his female villagers to get out of this marginalized role that they find themselves in. “I support the women in my village, they are my friends. Caritas Nepal has come to our village to empower women and I am trying to help them with it”, explains Dinesh. After all the training he has received, it is only of secondary importance for him to use his knowledge and skills for his own benefit. Passing it on to his “sisters” is of utmost importance for him. As a local, he is also familiar with their traditional practices and ways of life. With insights from both sides, he knows how to combine traditional with modern techniques. This is important as it helps to manifest understanding and change on a much deeper level in the community.
“I think I can teach them well, because I know a lot about the area and local practices here. I am happy to teach and show them the new techniques in such a way that they understand, accept and anchor them in everyday life. For instance, I am currently attending their monthly meetings to teach them about agriculture in and out of season.”
Dinesh started poultry and mushroom farming to give the women in his village an example of how to generate more income and to motivate them to start similar businesses. “I always try to promote new techniques so my sisters follow my example. Because without starting there will never be results. Nothing is impossible once you start working.” He is very grateful for all the training he has received and has recognized his mission to pass on this knowledge. “I would like to thank Caritas for coming to our village and improving our livelihood. I will continue to promote the techniques even if the organization has completed its project here. Thank you very much!”
* Kitchen gardening – A special cultivation technique proposed by Caritas for farmers with limited agricultural space. The field is supplied with waste products from the kitchen, where also the name comes from. Water and biodegradable waste that would otherwise be thrown away are used to supply the small field.